The Big Burns Supper – Dumfries, Fri 24–Sun 26 Jan 2014
A weekend-long celebration of the Bard's life and works, with Big Country, Dick Gaughan and more
Dumfries, the spiritual home of Robert Burns, and the place where he spent the last years of his life, recently played host to the third annual Big Burns Supper Festival. Not just a celebration of the Bard's life and works, the festival was also an opportunity to shine a light on various facets of Scottish art and culture. With Burns' influence now successfully integrated into a number of cultures around the world – 'Auld Lang Syne' is a staple in Japanese New Year celebrations – it's clear there are universal themes throughout Rabbie's work which have managed to capture the imagination of people from various backgrounds worldwide.
Despite the dreich and dreary conditions that plagued most of the festival, over 2000 people were still keen to participate in the homecoming carnival, which marched through the town centre almost oblivious to the predictably unpredictable Scottish weather. Pipe bands, Highland dancers in full swing and traditional drum ensembles provided a glimpse into what could be expected over the course of the weekend. To coincide with the festivities, the nearby Robert Burns Film Theatre also hosted an evening celebrating recent achievements in Scottish film, with The Angels' Share and Sunshine on Leith both being shown as part of the festival fringe. Surrounding pubs were also in on the act – the quaintly cosy Coach & Horses played a host to Americana duo Oyster Catchers. Cut from the same cloth as contemporaries such as First Aid Kit, their familiar harmonic style thrived on their lush arrangements including a cover of 'Fare Thee Well (Dink's Song)', which appears in the new Coen brothers film Inside Llewyn Davis.
The intimate interior of The Globe Inn, Burns' local haunt, also saw the country pie musings of New Zealand folkie Jamie McLennan being well received by a packed house. The main venue, which acted as a central hub for some of the bigger acts throughout the weekend, was a 1920s Spiegeltent, recreating the vibe of a post-war, smoky Berlin cabaret club. The Hackney Colliery Band, who were a part of the Olympic closing ceremony, brought rousing brass band arrangements and quirky interpretations of Prodigy and Kanye West songs, as well including original material that spanned a hybrid of Afrobeat, swing and Dixieland.
'Le Haggis' was a 90-minute burlesque Burns Supper which featured provocative acrobatics from male and female dancers, who performed to musical folk arrangements inspired by the works of Burns while the audience tucked into their haggis and neeps. Local hero and folk troubadour Dick Gaughan was on fine anecdotal form, with vivid narratives providing a detailed insight into Scottish history (the reflective raconteur took time to discuss the upcoming referendum and his role as a protest singer). The festival culminated on the Sunday night with celtic rock legends Big Country taking to the Spiegeltent stage to run a through a raucous set of their greatest hits. 'Fields of Fire' received such an overwhelming reception that the band played it a second time as part of their encore, while 'In a Big Country' conveyed an apt sentiment to sum up the weekend's festivities, signalling just how important the influence of Scottish art and culture has been throughout the world.